A Reasonable Prospect of Planning Permission: The Right To Possession Under Ground (f)

Even when it’s your day job in our planning world of imprecisely worded policies and the uncertainties of local and national politics, it can be hard enough to answer the question as to whether a proposed development project has a reasonable prospect of planning permission. But what if you are a county court judge? And when the law throws in some hypothetical assumptions?

One of the grounds under section 30(1) of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954 which a landlord can rely on in opposing the grant to of a new tenancy to an existing business tenant is on the ground that “on the termination of the current tenancy the landlord intends to demolish or reconstruct the premises comprised in the holding or a substantial part of those premises or to carry out substantial work of construction on the holding or part thereof and that he could not reasonably do so without obtaining possession of the holding.”

The courts have held that the landlord must show that (1) it has the intention to demolish or reconstruct at least a substantial part of the premises and (2) there is a reasonable prospect of being able to bring about that intention.

That “reasonable prospect” second limb of the test was the subject of Warwickshire Aviation Limited and others v Littler Investments Limited (Birss J, 25 March 2019) and I will deal with that in a moment.

However, first to note that the Supreme Court late last year caused a minor earthquake in terms of how the first limb is to be interpreted, namely whether the landlord has a sufficient “intention“.

For a long time now it has been the practice of some landlords to come up with demolition or redevelopment schemes just to satisfy the test, schemes which they are prepared to undertake to the court that they will carry out (an undertaking which they will not need to give if, as has been usual, in the face of an evidenced intention the tenant resigns itself to defeat and cuts a deal – in which case the scheme can be abandoned).

As a result of S Franses Limited v The Cavendish Hotel (London) Limited (Supreme Court, 5 December 2018), that practice has been rendered much more difficult.

The case concerned a textiles dealership and consultancy in Jermyn Street, Mayfair, comprising the ground floor and basement of what is otherwise the Cavendish Hotel. It was refused a new tenancy on the basis that its landlord “intended” to carry out an absurd set of works, arrived at because of the difficulties in obtaining planning permission for earlier proposals to create new retail units. The landlord ended up proposing a set of works that did not require planning permission. First, the proposed “internal wall dividing the two proposed retail units stopped two metres short of the shopfront at ground floor level; and there was no external door to one of the units, so that it could be accessed only through the other. Secondly, the new scheme added more extensive internal works, many of which were objectively useless. They included the artificial lowering of part of the basement floor slab, in a way which would achieve nothing other than the creation of an impractical stepped floor in one of the units; the repositioning of smoke vents for no reason; and the demolition of an internal wall at ground floor level followed by its immediate replacement with a similar wall in the same place. The cost of the scheme was estimated by the landlord at £776,707 excluding VAT, in addition to statutory compensation of £324,000 payable to the tenant.

It is common ground that the proposed works had no practical utility. This was because, although the works themselves required no planning permission, it would be impossible to make any use of them at all without planning permission for change of use, which the landlord did not intend to seek. Planning permission would have been required because the scheme involved combining premises permitted for hotel use with premises permitted for sui generis use. In addition, one of the retail units was unusable without an entrance from the street. In accordance with a common practice in this field, the landlord supported its evidence of intention with a written undertaking to the court to carry out the works if a new tenancy was refused. The sole purpose of the works was to obtain vacant possession. The landlord’s evidence was that it was prepared to run the risk that the premises occupied by the tenant would be rendered unusable “in order to secure its objective of undertaking [the third scheme] and thereby remove the claimant from the premises.” The landlord submitted that “the works are thoroughly intended because they are a way of obtaining possession. That is all there is to it.” As the landlord’s principal witness put it, the third scheme was “designed purely for the purpose of satisfying ground (f).”

The landlord argued that its motives were irrelevant – all that mattered was its intention to carry out the works. However, the Supreme Court disagreed.

Lord Sumption: “the landlord’s intention to demolish or reconstruct the premises must exist independently of the tenant’s statutory claim to a new tenancy, so that the tenant’s right of occupation under a new lease would serve to obstruct it. The landlord’s intention to carry out the works cannot therefore be conditional on whether the tenant chooses to assert his claim to a new tenancy and to persist in that claim. The acid test is whether the landlord would intend to do the same works if the tenant left voluntarily.”

In consequence in future cases there will surely be a greater need for expert evidence in county court proceedings as to why a particular scheme of works has some commercial utility to the landlord other than just as a basis for a ground (f) opposition to a new tenancy.

Back to the second limb and the Warwickshire Aviation case. The case had started in the county court, with seven separate aviation-related tenants of premises at Wellesbourne Mountford Airfield all faced with ground (f) opposition by their landlord to the grant of new tenancies on the basis that it intended to demolish their premises. There was a trial of the preliminary issue as to whether ground (f) had been made out. Planning permission for demolition would be required because permitted development rights had been taken away by way of an Article 4 direction. The landlord wished to bring to an end any aviation use on the airfield and instead to promote the site for residential development. The central issue at the four day trial was whether, against the planning policy background, there was a reasonable prospect that the local planning authority would grant planning permission for demolition, in the face of policies which included support for “enhancement of the established flying functions and aviation related facilities” at the airfield. Planning consultants gave expert evidence for the two sides, with very different conclusions.

One complication was the necessary hypothetical assumption that at the time of the notional planning application for demolition the tenants would have vacated and the current aviation related uses would have ceased. Given the landlord’s objectives, the county court judge found “there appears on legitimate and substantial economic/commercial grounds to be no realistic prospect, if consent for demolition was refused, of the Defendant re-instating aviation related use of the buildings. That would be a material consideration for the decision maker to have regard to” in the light of the relevant policies and therefore he concluded that there was a reasonable prospect that planning permission would be granted.

On appeal from the Birmingham County Court to the High Court, the tenants argued that “in planning terms the landlord’s future intentions are irrelevant and do not amount to a “material consideration” within s70(2) of the TCPA and s38(2) of the PACP. They argue while the land owner may well have sound commercial reasons for wanting to increase the profitability of its landholding and prevent further aviation use, those are quintessentially private rather than public interests.”

The judge on appeal rejected the argument. The relevant policy “rather than requiring developers to retain and support existing aviation related facilities at the airfield regardless of the circumstances, only states that developers are expected to contribute to the achievement of that objective “where it is appropriate and reasonable for them to do so”. As Littler submits, those words are wide enough to allow a developer to tell the decision maker that it does not intend to return the buildings to their previous aviation related uses for commercial reasons. The decision maker will assess if that stance is appropriate and reasonable in the circumstances. If the reasons are found to be genuine (as here), in that case it would be open to the decision maker to accept the stance of the developer. The result could well be that it would not be appropriate and reasonable to expect the developer to contribute to the achievement of the objective of retaining aviation related uses at Wellesbourne in that instance. Therefore the judge was entitled to approach the matter in the way he did.

Contrary to the […] appellants’ submission, this does not mean that the entire planning system can be subverted or frustrated because a landowner would always be able to succeed in obtaining planning permission for demolition or change of use simply by asserting an intention not to continue its existing use. That submission ignores the discretion in the relevant planning policy, ignores the fact that there were a range of other uses available not requiring planning permission (this is addressed in Ground C below) and ignores the fact that the judge specifically considered whether the reasons given by Littler were substantial and genuine.”

The appeal judge agreed with the county court judge that policies in a recently adopted neighbourhood plan did not make a significant difference to the issues.

Finally the appeal judge rejected the submission that the judge at first instance had applied too stringent a test in assessing the likelihood of aviation related uses resuming if permission for demolition were to be refused.

Regardless of what the correct answer actually was on the evidence, one can see the difficulties inherent in determining the hypothetical question on which the case turned. I’m no landlord and tenant lawyer but isn’t “reasonable prospect” just setting the bar too low? Of course the landlord is going to be dead-set against a continuation of the relevant use – that’s why it has gone to the expense of opposing a new tenancy. If that is relevant, doesn’t that leave the landlord holding all the cards? Or is the reality that business tenants have to accept that their right to a new tenancy will always be precarious? Another issue for the Supreme Court one day perhaps?

Landlord and tenant lawyers, you are welcome to set me straight on any of this.

Simon Ricketts, 20 April 2019

Personal views, et cetera

Calculating Education Contributions

We class schools, you see, into four grades: Leading School, First-rate School, Good School, and School. Frankly,” said Mr Levy, “School is pretty bad…”

(Evelyn Waugh, Decline and Fall)

The government has been fine-tuning its guidance as to the extent to which developers in England should be required to fund education provision.

Serendipitously for this blog post, the High Court last month handed down judgment in Thompson v Conwy County Borough Council (Dove J, 26 March 2019). Not only does the case provide an introduction to some of the existing uncertainties, but, as is clear from Dove J’s introduction, there is a link to one of the greatest comic literary depictions of a private school:

The site in question in relation to these proceedings is the Fair View Inn in Llanddulas. It appears that Evelyn Waugh was at one time a patron of the Fair View Inn when he taught at a nearby preparatory school. The Fair View Inn features as “Mrs Robert’s Pub” both in his diaries and also in his first novel, Decline and Fall.”

Remember that section in Decline and Fall, where Paul Pennyfeather gets sent to Llanabba Castle School in north Wales to teach subjects he knows nothing about, and his trips to Mrs Roberts’ pub with Captain Grimes? (If not, do put this blog post down and pick up D&F – much more entertaining).

One of the grounds of challenge to the grant of planning permission for residential development on the site of the Inn was that the planning committee, in approving the proposal on the basis of a commuted sum towards education provision, “were misled by inaccurate information being provided in relation to education school capacity.” It was submitted by the claimant (a representative of the campaign group Passionate about Llanddulas) that “although members were advised that the commuted sum would be used to improve existing school facilities in the near future, including the construction of a new school, the position […] is significantly different. [The claimant] contends that the position in truth is that the school in Llanddulas will remain over capacity on the basis that there is no guarantee at present that any new school would be secured through the provision of a commuted sum for education“.

The local school is indeed already oversubscribed. The education officer sought a financial contribution of £17,009, towards the costs of a new school in due course, based on approximately two additional nursery and primary pupils being added to the local school population. An internal email from the education officer was disclosed: “… we will be building a new school there in less than 5 years and the money will come in handy!

The claimant sought to rely on correspondence from the same officer that post-dated the permission and which set out the steps that would need to be taken to secure Welsh Government funding for a new school, the outcome of which was uncertain notwithstanding confidence expressed by the officer.

Dove J unsurprisingly took the position that “the question of whether or not officers misled members should be considered on the basis of the material as known to the officers at the time of the Committee report, rather than taking account of matters that arose or came to light after the decision was reached.”

But in any event he held that what was later set out by the officer in correspondence was “not in substance different from the succinct email he sent to Ms Roberts earlier in the year, namely that the Education Section of the Defendant has it in mind to use the commuted sum towards the redevelopment of the school in Llanddulas within five years. In my view it would subject the advice that the members were given to an illegitimate and overly forensic scrutiny to suggest that it was necessary also to spell out the further statutory and administrative processes which would be required before the new school would be open for use. The issue about which members were being advised was the question of whether or not there was a legitimate objective for the commuted sum in respect of education. The advice which the members were provided with accurately reflected the view of the Education Section given by Mr Jones and did not in my judgment mislead them. I am therefore satisfied on the basis of the information which has become available since the grant of permission that the members were not misled. Thus, even were account taken of material provided after the decision the position remains the same.”

No point appears to have been expressly taken as to whether the contribution failed the regulation 122(2) test within the CIL Regulations:

A planning obligation may only constitute a reason for granting planning permission for the development if the obligation is—

(a) necessary to make the development acceptable in planning terms;

(b) directly related to the development; and

(c) irly and reasonably related in scale and kind to the development.

Nor whether it offended the (soon to be abolished) pooling restriction in regulation 123.

Whilst the permission thereby survived the campaign group’s legal challenge, when you step back for a moment, the basis for requirements for contributions towards education provision, and the expensive uncertainty which developers and residents in new developments are expected to put up with, is faintly bizarre. New homes may contain children. Those children would need schooling somewhere regardless of the particular development. And yet, an application for planning permission for residential development is an opportunity that the Government pretty much requires local authorities to take in order to reduce the financial burden on the state and on direct taxation to secure financial contributions towards new and expanded schools. That cost reduces the financial viability of schemes, thereby reducing the amount affordable housing that the developer can subsidise (I’ve commented before on that logical disconnect conveniently ignored by successive Governments looking to minimise headline tax rates – so building market housing increases the amount of subsidised affordable housing that needs to be provided does it?). And, as in that Llanddulas example, where development proceeds on the basis of a financial contribution to something somewhere in the future, the developer and those who end up living in the development are at the whim of demographics and the education department’s forward planning and funds-securing nous as to whether, and where, necessary school places will become available. Rarely is the lack of available school places a reason to refuse planning permission.

But this is the policy environment.

Relevant passages in the Government’s Planning Practice Guidance were amended on 15 March 2019:

What funding is available for education?

Government provides funding to local authorities for the provision of new school places, based on forecast shortfalls in school capacity. There is also a central programme for the delivery of new free schools.

Funding is reduced however to take account of developer contributions, to avoid double funding of new school places. Government funding and delivery programmes do not replace the requirement for developer contributions in principle.

Plan makers and local authorities for education should therefore agree the most appropriate developer funding mechanisms for education, assessing the extent to which developments should be required to mitigate their direct impacts.

Paragraph: 007 Reference ID: 23b-007-20190315

Revision date: 15 03 2019

What contributions are required towards education?

Plans should support the efficient and timely creation, expansion and alteration of high-quality schools. Plans should set out the contributions expected from development. This should include contributions needed for education, based on known pupil yields from all homes where children live, along with other types of infrastructure including affordable housing.

Plan makers and decision makers should consider existing or planned/committed school capacity and whether it is sufficient to accommodate proposed development within the relevant school place planning areas. Developer contributions towards additional capacity may be required and if so this requirement should be set out in the plan. Requirements should include all school phases age 0-19 years, special educational needs (which could involve greater travel distances), and both temporary and permanent needs where relevant (such as school transport costs and temporary school provision before a permanent new school opens).

Plan makers should also consider whether pupils from planned development are likely to attend schools outside of the plan area and whether developer contributions may be required to expand schools outside of the area.


When local authorities forward-fund school places in advance of developer contributions being received, those contributions remain necessary as mitigation for the development.

Paragraph: 008 Reference ID: 23b-008-20190315

Revision date: 15 03 2019

The Department for Education published some detailed guidance for local authorities on 11 April 2019 to help them in securing developer contributions for education and on the approach to education provision in garden communities.

The guidance purports not to “advise the construction/development industry on its duties or responsibilities in paying for infrastructure” or to replace or override “policy/guidance produced by other government departments“. However, if you are negotiating section 106 agreement obligations, it is essential reading.

Securing developer contributions for education sets out the following principles:

• Housing development should mitigate its impact on community infrastructure, including schools;

• Pupil yield factors should be based on up-to-date evidence from recent housing developments;

• Developer contributions towards new school places should provide both funding for construction and land where applicable, subject to viability assessment when strategic plans are prepared and using up-to-date cost information;

• The early delivery of new schools within strategic developments should be supported where it would not undermine the viability of the school, or of existing schools in the area.”

Planning obligations should “allow enough time for developer contributions to be spent (often this is 10 years, or no time limit is specified“. But personally, I would push against such long timescales save where specifically justified!

In terms of the inter-relationship between government and developer funding:

5. Central government basic need grant, the DfE free schools programme and other capital funding do not negate housing developers’ responsibility to mitigate the impact of their development on education. When the DfE free schools programme is delivering a new school for a development, we expect the developer to make an appropriate contribution to the cost of the project, allowing DfE to secure the school site on a peppercorn basis and make use of developer contributions towards construction. National Planning Practice Guidance explains how local planning authorities should account for development viability when planning for the provision of infrastructure.2 There should be an initial assumption that both land and funding for construction will be provided for new schools planned within housing developments

6. While basic need funding can be used for new school places that are required due to housing development, we would expect this to be the minimum amount necessary to maintain development viability, having taken into account all infrastructure requirements Where you have a reasonable expectation of developer funding being received for certain school places,3 and you have declared this in your SCAP return (or plan to do so), then basic need funding should not be considered available for those school places other than as forward funding to be reimbursed by developer contributions later.

7. There are other options besides basic need grant for forward-funding school places, including the use of local authority borrowing powers where necessary. Where developer contributions have been secured through a planning obligation, you can recoup the borrowing costs from developer contributions later, provided these costs have been incurred as a result of housing growth. Local authorities can bid for funding under government grant programmes such as the Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF) as they become available, while developers delivering schools directly as an ‘in kind’ contribution may be eligible for loan funding from DfE or Homes England, allowing a new school to be delivered at an earlier stage in the development than would have been possible otherwise.”

Pupil yield factors should be based on up-to-date evidence from recent local housing developments“. DfE is working on a detailed methodology.

All new primary schools are now expected to include a nursery. There must be sufficient primary and secondary education up to the age of 19 as well as special educational needs and disabilities (SEN) provision.

The assumed cost of mainstream school places should be based on national average costs published by the DfE, adjusted to reflect regional costs differences. The cost of early years provision should be assumed as the same as primary provision. Contributions to special school provision should be set at four times the cost of a mainstream school place.

All temporary and permanent education needs should be properly addressed, including school transport costs and temporary school provision. Where appropriate, both a preferred and “contingency” school expansion project should be identified in a section 106 planning obligation.

23. You may wish to safeguard additional land when new schools within development sites are being planned, to allow for anticipated future expansion or the reconfiguration of schools to create a single site. ‘Future-proofing’ can sometimes be achieved informally through a site layout that places open space adjacent to a school site. Where justified by forecast need for school places, additional land can be designated specifically for education use and made available for purchase by the local authority within an agreed timescale, after which the land may be developed for other uses.

24. While developers can only be expected to provide free land to meet the education need from their development, the allocation of additional land should also preclude alternative uses, enabling you to acquire the site at an appropriate cost. Land equalisation approaches can be used in multi-phase developments to ensure the development ‘hosting’ a new school (and any additional safeguarded land) is not disadvantaged. Nevertheless, the market price for the land will depend on its permissible uses. Land allocated for educational use in a local plan would usually have no prospect of achieving planning permission for any other uses. Independent land valuation may be required to establish an acquisition cost. National Planning Practice Guidance provides advice on land valuation for the purposes of viability assessment.

(There are elements of paragraphs 23 and 24 with which I would take issue or which may be too generally expressed. For example, if the reservation of additional land for a school (or for further forms of entry to an existing school) and the need for those additional school places is not generated by the development within which the land is situated, why should that land not be acquired at the development value it would otherwise have enjoyed?).

The guidance annexes advice on compliance with state aid and public procurement legislation.

There is specific guidance on strategic developments and new settlements (with more detailed separate guidance on garden communities), including on multiple phase school provision, the timing of provision and use of viability review mechanisms where the initial education contribution has been reduced on viability grounds.

Whether your education contribution is in the low tens of thousands of pounds as per the Llanddulas case or in the low tens of millions of pounds, as may be the case with a new settlement, arriving at efficient, practical solutions is key. Travelling optimistically, let us hope that the new guidance will assist in arriving at those solutions, rather than encouraging authorities to add to the current list of requests.

Simon Ricketts, 13 April 2019

Personal views, et cetera

Beauty

How can the planning system seek to achieve “beautiful” buildings and places?

What is beauty? How do you arrive at objectivity in matters largely of subjective judgment? Is the customer always right (and who is the customer)?

These thoughts were prompted this week by a few things:

⁃ The resolution of the Corporation of London’s Planning and Transportation Committee on 2 April 2019 to grant planning permission for the Tulip following officers’ recommendations. The application will now be referred to the Mayor who will need to decide whether to intervene (whether by call in or by directing refusal). His stage 1 report dated 14 January 2019 set out his initial concerns.

Obituaries of Bill Heine, responsible for the Headington shark. Is there any inspector’s decision letter with a better passage than this (when allowing an appeal against an enforcement notice)?

“It is not in dispute that this is a large and prominent feature. That was the intention, but the intention of the appellant and the artist is not an issue as far as planning permission is concerned. The case should be decided on its planning merits, not by resorting to “utilitarianism”, in the sense of the greatest good to the greatest number. And it is necessary to consider the relationship between the shark and its setting…. In this case it is not in dispute that the shark is not in harmony with its surroundings, but then it is not intended to be in harmony with them. The basic facts are there for almost all to see. Into this archetypal urban setting crashes (almost literally) the shark. The contrast is deliberate … and, in this sense, the work is quite specific to its setting. As a “work of art” the sculpture (“Untitled 1986”) would be “read” quite differently in, say, an art gallery or on another site. An incongruous object can become accepted as a landmark after a time, becoming well known, even well loved in the process. Something of this sort seems to have happened, for many people, to the so-called “Oxford shark”. The Council is understandably concerned about precedent here. The first concern is simple: proliferation with sharks (and Heaven knows what else) crashing through roofs all over the City. This fear is exaggerated. In the five years since the shark was erected, no other examples have occurred. Only very recently has there been a proposal for twin baby sharks in the Iffley Road. But any system of control must make some small place for the dynamic, the unexpected, the downright quirky. I therefore recommend that the Headington shark be allowed to remain.”

⁃ a nagging awareness that I probably need to cover the Government’s “Building Better, Building Beautiful” initiative in one of these blog posts.

Section 12 of the July 2018 NPPF sought to give more weight, in plan making and decision taking, to design considerations – see MHCLG’s press release Government’s new planning rulebook to deliver more quality, well-designed homes (24 July 2018) and there is more detailed guidance in the PPG. The press release, as with so many Government announcements, focused on the relevance of the policy changes to the construction of new homes.

Is poor design one reason why new development is often not accepted by communities? That’s the thesis leading to James Brokenshire’s announcement on 3 November 2018 of the Building Better Building Beautiful Commission, chaired by Professor Sir Roger Scruton.

The Commission has three aims:

1. To promote better design and style of homes, villages, towns and high streets, to reflect what communities want, building on the knowledge and tradition of what they know works for their area.

2. To explore how new settlements can be developed with greater community consent.

3. To make the planning system work in support of better design and style, not against it.

The commission has five commissioners:

• Sir Roger Scruton (Chair)

• Gail Mayhew

• Mary Parsons

• Nicholas Boys Smith

• Kim Wilkie

It also has an impressive list of “specialist advisors”:

• Stephen Stone, Executive Chairman of Crest Nicholson

• Sunand Prasad, Senior Partner and co-founder of Penoyre & Prasad and past President of the RIBA

• Ben Bolgar, Senior Director of Prince’s Foundation

• Dame Fiona Reynolds DBE, Master of Emmanuel College, Cambridge

• Adrian Penfold OBE, Advisor in Planning and Public Affairs

• Peter Studdert, Chair of Quality Review Panels for the LLDC and LB of Haringey

• Patrick James, Founding Director of The Landscape Agency

• Paul Monaghan, Director of AHMM and Design Council Trustee

• Yolande Barnes, Professor of Real Estate at UCL

The deadline for the Commission’s call for evidence is 31 May 2019.

This “Building Beautiful” initiative, ironically as with the resi PD rights initiative where there no controls over matters of aesthetics and design, has its roots in think tank the Policy Exchange. The Policy Exchange published Building More, Building Beautiful: How design and style can unlock the housing crisis by Jack Airey, Sir Roger Scruton and Sir Robin Wales, and with a foreword by James Brokenshire, in July 2018. It published a collection of essays on the design, style and economics of the built environment Building Beautiful in January 2019.

Stating the position neutrally, it is right to record that the initiative, and Scruton, have their detractors, such as Robert Bevan in the London Evening Standard – I wouldn’t build my dream home in joyless, moralistic Scrutopia (25 January 2019):

The beauty commission has emerged from a report called Building More, Building Beautiful, by Policy Exchange, a Right-of-centre think tank. One of its three authors was Scruton himself. From its cover onwards — a drawing of Georgian houses that gets the historical details all wrong — it has been many decades since a more ludicrous or ignorant report on architecture was published.”

What on earth is going to come from this process?

The visual appearance of new homes is a curious thing. Largely a private sector product with paying consumers, why are we the public often not satisfied with what the market produces, even when the direct customers appear to be?

I won’t reveal the house builder, but there was a piece this week on the BBC website about a couple who had bought their “dream home” but were dissatisfied with a number of defects in its construction. I looked at the photo below with its wrong proportions, verge/garden, largely blank side flank and clay coloured rendering, and initially wondered how a such an ugly, presumably not cheap, house could be anyone’s dream. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder – it’s a new detached home with garden, and home ownership has been promoted by successive governments as to what we should aspire.

(Photo: BBC)

The aesthetic appearance of a new car is probably the only element of its design or function that is not subject to prescriptive regulation and requirements for testing. But it is plainly critical for car makers to invest in the visual appearance of the product, so as to attract the consumer for whom the car will be an extension of the personality that he or or she wishes to express, emphasising qualities such as speed or ruggedness, elegance or urban quirkiness.

So why is the new housing market apparently so different? Is there a lack of choice such that we’re still at Model T Ford “any style as long as it looks like a child’s drawing of a detached house and garden“? Or is it the case, more likely, that the products that we see are those that have been proven to sell? In which case, aren’t there dangers in trying to funnel house builders towards a different approach?

If different products would make it more likely for permission to be obtained and for homes to be built and sold, why hasn’t this been achieved by operation of the market? What is the overlap with the Letwin “delivery” initiative (see my 3 November 2018 blog post Oliver’s Twist: Letwin’s Proposals For Large Housing Sites)?

It is all very well for the Commission’s first aim to refer to local styles of building but where is the architectural integrity in adopting a particular local building style as pastiche simply to gain community buy-in? Surely beauty simply comes from producing well-proportioned good quality buildings with a form that reflects their function (can we ban fake chimneys?) and with as much attention paid to space and landscape as built form? Do we really need the Scuton Commission or indeed any more prescriptive planning policies? Simply assess schemes against those principles, at outline and reserved matters stages, and make sure that there is no room for post-permission dumbing down. And ensure that there is a properly functioning, competitive house building market. Start with getting the market right, not the detailed design requirements (only local stone here, even though it has to be shipped in from abroad).

After all, whilst planners love to arrive at quasi-objective ways of assessing largely subjective matters (needs must, I suppose) and the tools for doing that are getting ever better (for instance, primarily in an urban context, vu.city and Cityscape Digital), save where particularly justified surely we should restrict the role of the state in telling us what we are going to find beautiful? Heritage decisions based on assessment of architectural quality are difficult. Decisions in relation to NPPF paragraph 79(e) (the green light for proposed isolated homes in the countryside where the design is of “exceptional quality” in that it is “truly outstanding or innovative, reflecting the highest standards in architecture..”) are difficult. It is quite something to appoint a planning committee or inspector as cultural arbiter on our behalf and to expect their decisions not to be underpinned, consciously or unconsciously, by political or social priorities and assumptions.

I still like that shark. Jury out on Tulip.

Simon Ricketts, 6 April 2019

Personal views, et cetera